How is the infantry of the army


The infantry is the real main branch of the army. The army as a whole is formed around them. Only they can decide battles, use won successes, which neither the artillery nor the cavalry, which are assigned to the infantry, can in order to increase their efficiency.

a) The battalion
The smallest tactical unit is the battalion (see also the explanation of the regiment) and is normally commanded by a major or chief de battalion. It consists of 6 companies (4 center companies, 1 grenadier and 1 voltigeur company). One company has 140 men. The company had 8 troops of 15 men each (see, among other things, the list of a company). Normally the battalion was 840 men. As a result of the forced marches and illnesses during the campaigns, the battalions shrank to an average of around 500 men and less. The grenadier and voltigeur companies were elite units of the battalion. The grenadiers were soldiers of above-average stature and combat experience. You support the rest of the battalion physically and, more importantly, morally. They were the backbone, so to speak. Their uniforms always showed striking differences (red epaulettes, red shakko hangings, saber briquet, etc.). The other elite company, the voltigeurs, were men chosen for their mobility. They had special shooting training and fought in loose formations like snipers. They were also recognizable by their uniforms (green and yellow epaulettes, green or yellow shakko hangings, etc.) The 4 other companies, or the main part of the battalion, consisted of troops called center or fusilier companies, consisting of average men without special skills . This was the bulk of the infantry, trained, sometimes very scanty, to fire volleys and bayonet fighting. They were called center companies because when the battalion was deployed in line, the grenadiers were on the right and the voltigeurs on the left when they were not used for skirmishing. In the early days of the Grande Armée, the elite companies were taken from their main battalions and formed their own independent battalions. They then mostly served as a reserve to bring about the decision in the battles in difficult situations.

b) The regiment

The regiment was mainly for administrative purposes and not very important on the battlefield. It was usually commanded by a colonel. It was formed from one or more battalions; in most cases it advanced with four battalions, the so-called field battalions. Often the battalions fought at the same time in the most varied of arenas. For example, the 8ème was represented with its first 3 battalions in Spain, while the 4th battalion fought the Austrians in 1809.

The fifth battalion remained at the regimental location as a depot battalion. It only had four companies, drawn in new recruits and trained them for the fighting battalions.

Each regiment also had a staff. In addition to the Colonel, this consisted of 1 major, 4 Chefs de bataillon, 5 Adjudants-majors (Adjudants), 1 Quartier-maître trésorier, 1 Paymaster (Officier payeur), 1 eagle-bearer (Porte-aigle), 1 Doctor (surgeon major), 4 medical assistants (aides-chirurgiens), 5 assistants (sous-aides), 10 staff officers (adjudants sous-officiers), 2 and 3 eagle-bearers (2e et 3e porte-aigles), 1 band master (drum) Major), 1 deputy Kapellmeister (Caporal Tambour), 8 musicians (Musiciens), 4 craftsmen (Maîtres-ouvriers). A total of 50 men.

The approximate strength of a regiment was 3,970 men, including 108 officers. In 1809, regimental artillery was introduced by decree to compensate for the dwindling combat strength of the regiments due to the constant wars. This came from Austrian booty stocks from the 1809 campaign, which were available in large numbers. It consisted of 3 guns, 60 artillerymen and 60 men for the artillery train. It is questionable whether each regiment actually received this artillery, because in 1809 many of the regiments were in Spain, including the 8ème. After the devastating campaign in Russia in 1812, the regimental artillery, which was mostly lost after the retreat, was not set up again. See also The Structure of the Grande Armée from 1804-1815 - The Artillery
c) The brigade
This is the tactical formation that ranks directly above the regiment in the maneuver. It is usually commanded by a General de Brigade (Brigadier General). A brigade usually consists of 2, sometimes 3 regiments.

d) The division
The division is the next higher tactical formation to the brigade. It was usually headed by a General de Division (division general). There was at least one division
from two brigades that supported and acted in combat.

e) The Army Corps
The army corps represents a formation that was brought to the highest perfection in the Grande Armée. In its most perfect form it comprised one or more divisions, as well as cavalry and reserve artillery, not to forget the supply columns, ambulances, etc. It is like a small army that can independently wage a campaign. The army corps was commanded by a general or marshal. In this context it should be mentioned that marshal was not just a mere rank, but an honorary title. There are two different types in the Grande Armée: line and light infantry. These two main types have been divided into categories that differ in their combat value. Starting with the first type, these categories were: Guard, Line, and Reserve.

The different types of infantry

a) Line infantry
Their kind was the most numerous. A line battalion consisted of four fusilier companies without special training and two elite companies (see also the battalion explanation). The battalions were the main part of the army. They were normally only used in closed formations, with the exception of the elite companies (grenadiers and voltigeurs), which sometimes operated separately. The voltigeurs in particular preceded the battalion in order to disturb the enemy, e.g. with their fire, whereby they acted in open formation. The infantryman of a center company was referred to in the Grande Armée as a line infantryman.

b) The light infantry
The light infantry in the Grande Armée was similar to an elite force. The soldiers were able to perform the same tasks as the light companies of the line battalions. But they could also be used like line infantry. The battalion was basically structured like the battalion of the line. It consisted of four center companies (chasseurs) and two elite companies. The first consisted of the Carabiniers and was synonymous with the Grenadiers. The second were the voltigeurs.

c) The Infantry of the Guard
In 1804 the old guard was brought into being with all branches of arms and formed, so to speak, an independent army corps during the campaign that was under the direct command of Napoleon. This army corps was composed of selected and experienced soldiers who had taken part in several campaigns and battles and who were recommended by their regimental commanders from the line and the light infantry for entry into the guard. The infantry of the guard consisted of the grenadier and chasseur regiments and had four companies per battalion, but they were twice as strong as those of the line and the light infantry. These regiments have always belonged to the Old Guard.

Later the guard should be increased by further regiments. However, these belonged to the Middle Guard or the Young Guard. In principle, the Guard in the Grande Armée represented the ultimate reserve on the battlefield. The soldiers received a higher pay and were also better fed, which was not always welcomed by the majority of the Grande Armée.

e) The National Guard (reserve infantry)
It consists of troops from the second contingent, recruited old soldiers, recruits with little training, local militias, etc. This contingent was incorporated into the Grande Armée in 1813 and 1814, after the fateful Russian campaign. The National Guard was also formed in battalions and regiments, but as a rule had no elite companies.

The battalion's formations

a) Basics
Infantry weapons were still very primitive at the time and firearms, especially muskets, lacked precision. This also explains why the infantry had to fire in volleys to achieve satisfactory efficiency. Thus the simultaneous fire of a company of 120 muskets could give hope that at a distance of 60 meters between 10 and 20 percent of the target would be hit. In order to launch a mass fire, it was therefore necessary to let the infantry march in closed formations. In addition, these closed formations produced an impact force when attacked that could not have been achieved with a loose formation.

b) The line
The safest way to incapacitate the enemy was to kill him with the fire before it came to hand-to-hand combat. The formation that most surely guarantees this result is that which allows the simultaneous fire of the greatest possible number of muskets, that of the line. The companies in this formation were arranged side by side in an unbroken line. The soldiers of the companies were divided into three groups. The first two limbs fired, while the third limb was used to load the muskets or as a reserve. With a battalion of approx. 600 men, 400 muskets could then be fired with a front length of 150 meters. Another advantage of this formation is its shallow depth and thus low vulnerability to artillery fire. However, it has a low resistance to an attack by infantry in column formation and cavalry.

c) The column
This formation was formed by setting up the unit in several rows. There are three main types of columns on the battlefield. The marching column is the one that guarantees the fastest movement to reach the battlefield. It is made up of half companies that march one after the other. For the actual fight, however, this formation is rather unsuitable. The company column is a formation in which the individual companies stood behind one another. In this combat formation, the firepower was subordinated to the thrust which the large number of ranks could give to infantry advancing at a rapid pace. In the Grande Armée, the divisional column was the most frequently used attack formation. A little explanation about this: The word division, which was used as shown to denote the union of several brigades, has another meaning. Namely, the association of two companies from the same battalion. So a division column is a column that is two companies wide. It is a formation that has the advantage of having a wider front for close combat and still having a higher impact force due to the many ranks that follow. Because of its extended front width, it also allows the delivery of a significantly higher firepower.

d) The square
The infantry is susceptible to attacks from cavalry. A battalion attacked by cavalry in the flank or back is practically lost. To counter this danger, a special formation was developed: the battalion square. This is a formation in which the companies or divisions line up at right angles to one another, looking outwards from the resulting geometric figure. At the beginning of the imperial era, the first row knelt down here and held up their bayonets, and the second and third rows could then fire alternately. Thus one completed the hedgehog formation and with their own bayonets at the same time. In the last years of the empire the front row was also there, because the majority of the army consisted of many recruits and they did not want to cause confusion through additional, complicated orders. The necessary training and discipline for the quick formation of the square was limited to the elite and line troops, with the elite troops (mostly the grenadier company) occupying the corners of the square or also forming the reserve.

The formation of a battalion square does not allow a rapid marching movement, because whichever direction is taken, at least one side is back to the direction of march. Sometimes a square was formed from many divisions and this square then resembles a fortress.

The pictures show a battalion of the line infantry (picture 1), which forms a square from the column formation (with a distance of half a company length from each other). The elite companies (voltigeurs / grenadiers) are detached. In the final formation, the battalion offers effective protection against attacking cavalry. The flag peloton, the drum as well as the chief of the battalion and the adjudicators are in the middle of the battalion

The 1st company stands still. It will form the front line of the Karees. The 2nd and 3rd companies split in the middle (Fig. 2), their first two sections turn to the right to form the right side of the square, while their 2nd sections turn to the left accordingly and thus the left side of the square. The 4th company then closes the square (Fig. 3), makes half a turn on the spot and forms the retroactive front of the battalion (Fig. 4) Image source:

e) The tirailleurs (skirmishers)
The term tapering means the use of loose formations. The purpose of this formation was to advance on the enemy and at the same time to offer the least possible target for his defensive fire. In addition, their fire should disturb the enemy. This is achieved by leaving the closed ranks, dispersing, constantly changing one's position, etc. In general, the line and the light infantry could practice the handling of loose formations. Due to the special training, the use of the light infantry for the use of the loose formation was much more effective, so that actually only the voltigeurs corresponded to the same level in the line. The loose formation was also used on difficult terrain, which would be dangerous with closed formations. The main disadvantage, however, was their great vulnerability to cavalry.

Finally, we would like to show you a recreated scene about the French infantryman in his everyday life:

On to the cavalryThe structure of the Grande Armée from 1804-1815 - The cavalry

Back to The 8ème in the campaign of 1815

Basic organization of the armies - Laurent Deneu
Napoleon's Army - H.C.B. Rogers
La Grande Armée - The story of Napoleon's army - Miguel Ángel Martín Más